AUSTIN (KXAN) – Late Friday, a federal appeals court reinstated the most restrictive abortion law in the U.S. The move came hours after a request from the state of Texas request to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to take action as soon as possible to overturn a temporary injunction blocking the law.
It came two days after a federal judge in Austin placed Texas’ new abortion law on hold Wednesday night. Within hours of the injunction, one abortion provider resumed providing abortion care, even though the pause may not shield providers from lawsuits.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued the injunction against the “Heartbeat Act,” which went into effect Sept. 1. The law bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected, which could be as soon as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many know they are pregnant.
The state of Texas on Wednesday night quickly filed a notice of appeal to the ruling in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, leading to the law being reinstated Friday night. The New Orleans-based appeals court granted Texas’ request to set aside Pitman’s order for now while the case is reviewed. It ordered the Justice Department to respond by Tuesday.
Pitman’s temporary halt on the law did not give abortion providers legal protection in the long term. The law was written so providers can be sued retroactively, if the law goes back into effect.
But Whole Woman’s Health, which has four locations in Texas including in Austin, said it conducted abortions Thursday, while the injunction was in place. Its CEO, Amy Hagstrom Miller, said their clinics reached out to women they previously turned down in anticipation of a ruling in their favor.
“We were able to provide abortions today to people who had already complied with Texas’ 24 hour-waiting period,” the clinic wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “We’ve reached out to people on the waiting list we had to turn away in September. In this climate, every single abortion we can provide is a win.”
Hagstrom Miller further explained in a press conference Thursday for patients with cardiac activity they had to deny earlier in September, the clinic went ahead and offered them the option to complete the consenting process that is required to have an abortion in Texas.
“We didn’t really want to mislead people with false hope that we would get an injunction,” she said. “But we also didn’t want to deny them the opportunity of opting in, in case we did get an injunction, so that they would be ready and able to come in for the abortion right away.”
Additionally, Hagstrom Miller said they booked patients for a consultation visit, or the first appointed required by Texas to get an abortion. She added they’ve also booked consenting patients who plan to come into a clinic in the next few days for an abortion.
Hagstrom Miller acknowledged the uncertainty of the legal repercussions this could have on Whole Woman’s Health clinics, saying they could be sued retroactively if the injunction is repealed.
“But we also have this retroactive situation with SB 8, that many providers are afraid of, many of our physicians and staff are afraid of, that would, if the injunction is knocked down in the future, would allow for the vigilantes to come back and sue us for every abortion we did in the interim,” she said.
“#SB8 left our patients with two choices: carry a pregnancy to term against their will or travel out of state to receive care. This ban hurt Texans and now we can help them,” Whole Woman’s Health continued on social media.
KXAN reported in September, after the law had taken effect, that some Oklahoma abortion providers were already seeing a surge in calls from Texans. Trust Women in Oklahoma told KXAN it typically got three to five calls from Texans per day, but in early September they received 50 to 55 calls from Texans over the course of two days.
Both supporters and opponents of SB 8 expect the ultimate decision on the law to come from the Supreme Court.
“That process takes years,” said Molly Duane, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights.
“We have seen a pattern in recent years, dating all the way back to Whole Women’s Health vs. Hellerstedt, where the district court enters a very well-reasoned and comprehensive injunction that the 5th Circuit takes away immediately, and then it’s up to the Supreme Court to step in and reinstate that injunction,” Duane added.
The legal fight over the Texas anti-abortion law comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares for a case that could overturn the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision. The Court will hear arguments over a Mississippi law passed in 2018 that bans most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. The Justices are scheduled to hear the case on December 1.
‘Why are you attacking me?’ 8-year-old transgender girl asks lawmakers to oppose sports ban bill
During a marathon hearing Wednesday that lasted more than 10 hours, a transgender child pleaded with Texas House lawmakers to halt a bill that would prevent her from playing in sports with other girls.
Sunny Bryant traveled with her mother, Rebekah, from Houston to join dozens of others testifying at the House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies. The members held a vote on House Bill 25, which would ban transgender student-athletes from playing in sports corresponding to their gender identity. Gov. Greg Abbott added the legislation to the special session agenda again after it failed to pass three times this year.
“Why are you attacking me?” the 8-year-old said into the microphone lowered to match her height. “I’m really great.”
Bryant said she previously testified against the legislation, and this time she told the committee members that her family may move to another state with more accepting policies toward transgender people.
“My first visit to the Capitol should have been on a school field trip, not defending my right to exist,” she said, “but if I don’t show up, you won’t see the real stories. Kids like me whose futures will be crushed, opportunities taken away even before I’m given a chance to try.”
She suggested that the lawmakers pursuing this legislation should get to know more people like her.
“I think maybe you need more trans people in your life. Every time I meet trans kids and grownups, my heart grows,” Bryant said. “Don’t be a Grinch. Let your heart grow.”
Before Bryant’s testimony began, the hearing started with a presentation from Texas Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring. She had the chance to explain the contents of the legislation and argue why it’s needed in the state. She said it’s about fairness because she said transgender student-athletes put girls at a disadvantage in competitions. She was asked, but could not provide during the hearing definitive examples of instances in Texas where a trans person either took someone’s spot in a sport or caused them to lose an athletic scholarship. She told questioners she would get back to them.
Without this bill, Swanson said Title IX, which guarantees equal educational opportunity in federally-funded programs, is “in danger.” She also equated the legislation to preventing another energy crisis like the one that gripped the state in February when millions lost power for days during Winter Storm Uri.
“Our constituents expect us to see problems that are coming and not wait until there’s a disaster, until everything falls apart, and then try to fix it,” Swanson said. “I think we can all think about what happened last February, when we did not properly anticipate what could happen to the electric grid, and I think our constituents are not happy that we didn’t anticipate that. So it’s not leadership to wait until everything is falling apart.”
Texas Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, told Swanson that he believed the bill would raise the risk of trans youth harming themselves. The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization working with LGBTQ youth, released a report last month that revealed it received more than 3,900 crisis contacts this year from young people who identify as transgender and nonbinary in Texas. The report stated that many of them said they felt stressed and considered suicide due to legislation being debated in the state.
Sunny Bryant’s mother, Rebekah, spoke after her daughter, saying the eight year old began suffering anxiety because of the ongoing debates about this particular legislation.
“None of the people for this bill know a trans person, much less a child who will be cut off from the joy of playing sports and living a full life,” Rebekah said. “My child did not choose to be who she is. She just is.”
After hearing from hundreds of witnesses Wednesday, the House select committee ended up voting 8-4 along party lines to advance HB 25 onto a vote in the full House. Speaker Dade Phelan previously told The Texas Tribune that he believes there are enough votes right now for it to pass. The Texas Senate already approved the bill during this latest special session.
Challengers aim to defeat Attorney General Ken Paxton in Republican Primary
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton routinely makes headlines for filing lawsuits against the federal government. But in recent months, his own legal troubles have sometimes received more attention than his work.
A panel appointed by the Texas State Bar is investigating Paxton and his staff for their failed efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The investigation began in early summer and aims to determine if there was misconduct on Paxton’s part in regard to a December 2020 lawsuit headed up by Paxton, which asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh the constitutionality of 2020 election procedures used in battleground states Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Paxton’s office calls the panel conducting the investigation “one-sided and partisan,” claiming the group is made up of left-leaning lawyers “strategically” picked from Travis County.
“Texans know exactly what’s going on here,” said Paxton in a press release. “It is no surprise that a cabal of President Biden donors and voters are finding a way to retaliate against the work of my office for the State of Texas’s challenge to the constitutionality of the 2020 elections.”
The legal issues have been a big factor in leading three fellow Republicans to launch campaigns against Paxton for the GOP nomination for Attorney General in the 2022 elections.
Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced his campaign in the summer. Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman also jumped in the race. And last month, State Representative Matt Krause launched his bid for the nomination.
All three challengers pitch themselves as conservative fighters. Our team spoke one-on-one with each Republican challenger to learn more about the motivation for getting in the race, and what they say sets them apart.
“I think this campaign comes down to executive experience. I’m the only one that’s run organizations in the private sector, the public sector, and also in the military,” Bush explained. “I’m ready to start this job day one.”
Click above for full interview with George P. Bush
Bush, the son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, says his experience in the private sector is what the Attorney General’s office needs.
“This office needs to be turned upside down. It needs to be reformed,” Bush said. “We need to attract new talent to the most important law firm in the state of Texas.”
Guzman said her 22 years of experience as a judge makes her the best person for the job.
“The good thing about being a judge in coming to this job with my experience is that I take a look at every issue with fresh eyes,” Guzman said. “The only thing that’s guided my decisions over the last 22 years is the Constitution.”
Click above for full interview with Eva Guzman
“Whether it’s fighting for the unborn, being a voice for our children, whether it’s securing the border, whether it’s election integrity, whether it’s upholding the Constitution, I’m the one with a proven track record over two decades of supporting our constitution and upholding conservative values,” Guzman said.
Krause points to his record in the legislature as a reason for Texas conservatives to support him.
“Whether it’s pro life issues, Second Amendment issues, religious liberty, law enforcement, whatever the issue is, especially those that are important to Republican primary voters, I’ve been on the frontlines fighting for them time and again, session after session,” Krause said.
Click above for full interview with Matt Krause
“I think it’s that comfort level of knowing that you’ve got somebody who is that faithful conservative fighter, who’s going to be in that position that will resonate with the voters and draw them to support us,” Krause added.
All three Republican challengers said the accusations facing Paxton helped convince them to get into the race. We asked all of them whether they thought those allegations rose to the level that the Attorney General should resign.
“Yes I do, for the good of the people of Texas,” Guzman said. “It is time for Ken Paxton to resign and focus on his own legal issues,” she added, referencing a similar statement made last year by Congressman Chip Roy (R-Texas).
Bush also echoed the call for Paxton to resign, adding that he should face a trial over the accusations of securities fraud. “He knows as a good lawyer does, the best way to stay out of jail is to delay the cases in for the securities fraud case that he faces where we’re in year seven,” Bush said of the unresolved case.
Krause noted how Paxton’s office issued a lengthy memo finding that he did nothing wrong regarding bribery allegations against him.
“That’s man hours that we could have been using to protect the values and liberties of Texans instead of crafting your own report vindicating yourself,” Krause said.
It’s interesting to remember that Krause has been a supporter of Ken Paxton. He endorsed him in 2014 – and in 2018 even though Paxton was under indictment.
We reached out to Paxton’s office and his campaign to try to get an interview, but have not received a response.
Can a Texas Republican win without Donald Trump’s endorsement?
A key player in the race for the Republican nomination for Texas Attorney General is not on the ballot: Donald J. Trump.
Getting the former President’s endorsement has been a key to victory for several Republican candidates. In this race, Trump has given his blessing to incumbent Ken Paxton.
“Ken has my Complete and Total Endorsement for another term as Attorney General of Texas,” Trump wrote in a statement released in July. “He is a true Texan who will keep Texas safe – and will never let you down!”
Paxton’s GOP challengers each believe that they best reflect the values that Trump voters want in a candidate.
“You look at the endorsement he gave to the incumbent, you can take out his name, put my name in there and you’re going to see that I fought for the exact same things,” Krause said.
Bush said he has a great relationship with Trump. “He likes my policies. He has supported me in the past and I’ll continue to reach out to his supporters,” Bush said. “The best person to carry on that agenda is me.”
Bush also pointed to the victory of Republican Jake Ellzey in a July runoff for a north Texas congressional seat as evidence a candidate can beat someone endorsed by Trump. Ellzey defeated fellow Republican Susan Wright in the runoff, despite Wright having Trump’s endorsement.
Guzman said the Trump endorsement should not be what decides this primary race.
“I’m asking Texas voters to take a look at my record to take a look at how I’ve upheld the constitution and to evaluate your candidates based on their record,” Guzman said.
“I am respectful of endorsements. It is good when leaders speak up. But at the end of the day, every Texan walks into the ballot box for themselves,” she concluded.